Garden maintenance

Routine garden tasks, such as pruning and weeding, will not only keep your garden tidy but will also help prevent pest and disease attack, which often starts within decaying plant debris. So, employ good garden hygiene methods and you'll have less maintenance to do in the long run.

Pruning

Many herbs benefit from being cut back annually by up to one-third, because this not only makes them look more attractive but also promotes new growth in the following season.

Normally, gardeners are encouraged to prune back spent blooms on annuals and perennials after flowering, but that's not the case with herbs that are grown for their seeds, such as coriander, dill and fennel. Leave them to complete their life cycle. With herbs that are not grown for their flowers, pinch off their blooms to encourage leafy growth.

Many herbs self-seed in the garden, popping up where you least expect them. Catnip, nasturtiums and borage, all shown above, keep appearing for years, as does heartsease.

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You only need to prune trees if their branches are rubbing together, which can create open wounds that are prone to disease and insect attack, or if their limbs are congested, reducing light and air circulation. For low branches, use a small handsaw, but for larger ones, call in the professionals. Always protect your eyes from sawdust.

For regular stem pruning, invest in a good-quality pair of clippers, but for tougher stems and small branches, buy a pair of ergonomic ratchet or anvil pruners. If you regularly clean and oil them, they'll last a decade or more. On the other hand, if you habitually mislay things, buy the cheaper ones.

Always keep your herb garden weeded and well-mulched, and remove damaged foliage regularly

Eliminating weeds

Garden weeds compete with other plants for nutrients, light and water, but you can eliminate or at least reduce them by following some basic garden practices.

If there is not enough room in the garden, weeds won't be able to grow, so plant groundcovers, such as thyme and mints, to fill in gaps and stop weeds jostling for position.

Hand weeding is still an effective way to remove plants, particularly those with rhizomatous roots. Dig up the whole root system, rather than pulling off the vegetative growth that's above the soil. And it's best not to put weeds with seed heads into the compost, or you could end up returning the problem to the garden.

It used to be considered good practice to smother weeds with sheets of ugly black plastic, but all this did was foster anaerobic conditions in the soil underneath, resulting in airless, slimy, smelly conditions. Weed mat is a much better alternative, because it allows air as well as moisture through.

Using herbicides

Use weedkillers, or herbicides, only as a last resort or if you're preparing a whole bed, but be careful, particularly if you're growing edible herbs or there are valuable or favorite plants nearby. Always read the label and follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.

Be responsible and choose the type of herbicide that's appropriate, effective and safe, and always wear protective clothing, such as a mask, gloves, boots and goggles.

• Selective herbicides - kill only weeds.

• Non-selective herbicides - kill any plant they touch, so use them carefully on a still day so the spray drift doesn't land on your garden plants. The most commonly used non-selective herbicide is glyphosate.

• Systemic herbicides - travel through the entire plant, from the roots right up to the leaves.

• Pre-emergent chemicals - are applied to the soil before seedlings have emerged to eliminate weed seeds.

• Post-emergent weed killers - are applied after crops have emerged.

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A weed is often a plant that's growing in the wrong place - and that includes herbs. Finding the right plan! for the right place can be tricky: If you plant hardy plants to cope with drought or survive in difficult conditions or aspects, they're usually the resilient plants that end up taking over.

■ Check whether your chosen herb has a reputation for being invasive, then decide whether to grow it. The staff at your local nursery should be able to advise you if a particular plant is a problem in your area. An herb that's invasive in one location may not be in another area with different climatic or soil conditions. In addition, not all plants of the same species may be rampant, so look for alternative varieties that may be bred as sterile (so the seed won't be viable and grow).

■ Plant garden escapees in pots, either as free-standing potted plants or in pots sunk into the ground, so their roots are restricted, keep

Topiary shears are ideal for shaping herbs with compact leaves, such as this variegated thyme.
Chicory is a self-seeding herb that can become a weed in the garden.

plants in check by removing the flowers before they set seed, which will be spread by wind and birds. Regularly prune those with invasive runners, such as mint, and dispose of the cuttings responsibly.

■ Ask your local council or weed authority if your herbs are on the noxious or Invasive list. Some to be aware of include horseradish. St. John's wort, yarrow, chicory and mints.

When weeding, make sure you remove the Whole root system, not just the foliage.

Propagation

Carefully remove seedlings from punnets by gently squeezing the bottom of each cell.

One of the most satisfying aspects of gardening is growing plants from seeds or cuttings and then watching lliem flourish. Although some herbs require particular treatments, there are several methods you can use. and it's always worth experimenting. Annual herbs arc best planted each year from seed, while many perennial herbs are propagated by stem cuttings, layering or division.

Continue reading here: Sowing seed

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